2017-01-12 / Pets

Program lets inmates rehabilitate shelter dogs

By Michael Aushenker

OPERATION RUFF ROAD— The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office will launch a program this month that will allow participating inmates to train rescue dogs in an effort to make the pets more adoptable. From left are K-9 behaviorist and lead trainer Rachelle Solis and her dog Ricca; rescue dog Olive, the face of the nonprofit Pivot; and RUFF Road program leaders Senior Dep. Shawn Pewsey and Senior Dep. Danielle Delpit. Courtesy of VCSO OPERATION RUFF ROAD— The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office will launch a program this month that will allow participating inmates to train rescue dogs in an effort to make the pets more adoptable. From left are K-9 behaviorist and lead trainer Rachelle Solis and her dog Ricca; rescue dog Olive, the face of the nonprofit Pivot; and RUFF Road program leaders Senior Dep. Shawn Pewsey and Senior Dep. Danielle Delpit. Courtesy of VCSO The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office is launching a pilot program this month that will provide a second chance for both inmates and shelter dogs.

VCSO’s detention-services division has partnered with Pivot Animal Assisted Education Outreach, a Ventura-based nonprofit that works to save dogs facing euthanasia at local shelters by providing them with training that could make them more adoptable.

As part of the program, eligible Ventura County inmates will teach the dogs basic obedience, house training and socialization skills through positive reinforcement. The program will also invite veterinarians and vet techs, humane officers, dog groomers and other related professionals to visit the participating inmates and talk to them about animal care.

The 16-week program will be held at both the Todd Road Jail in Santa Paula and Ventura County Juvenile Hall in Oxnard. Pivot calls the Todd Road program RUFF (Rehabilitation Utilizing Furry Friends) Road, while the Juvenile Hall version has been dubbed Pawsitive Steps.

Two teens in Juvenile Hall will each be paired with a dog, while four inmates at Todd Road Jail will each be assigned a canine to train.

While a start date has not been set, the goal is to launch the program before February. Training will take place in two-hour sessions five days a week.

Kathy Quijada, Pivot’s co-founder, said this is the first program of its kind in the county.

Pivot is picking out dogs for the program from the Ventura County Animal Services’ shelter in Camarillo. Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office is selecting incarcerated applicants to take part based on good behavior and participation in other educational and vocational programs.

Applicants must also undergo an interview with Pivot staff.

The rescue dogs—which will be trained to follow basic commands such as sitting, rolling over and not barking—will learn good behavior, trust and other skills that would make them more likely to be adopted.

Meanwhile, inmates will have the opportunity to serve the community by training dogs to be well-behaved. At the same time, officials said, the inmates will gain patience, confidence, self-pride, and communication and job skills that could serve them well when they’re released from jail.

“The dogs will be living on-site with the inmates 24/7,” Quijada said, adding that participants will be low- to medium-level offenders.

Quijada, who has been involved with rescue animals for 15 years, founded Pivot in January 2016 with fellow Ventura resident Denise de Garmo-Ritchie, who’s been working with rescue groups for 23 years.

Should the Pivot initiative succeed, Ventura County Probation Agency Division Manager Joe Moore said, he wants to see it continue as an ongoing program at the 44-acre juvenile facility, which was built for 420 minors but now houses 77.

“The plan is definitely to keep going with this as long as we can,” Moore said.

The program is a win-win situation for all involved, Quijada said.

“It gives everybody purpose,” she said.

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